Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 2
The Wordless Teachings

When seduced by an image of beauty,
We create ugliness.
If that becomes beautiful, this becomes ugly.
When impressed by an image of goodness,
We create badness.
If this becomes good, that becomes bad.

Form & emptiness arise together:
Difficult & easy complement each other,
Long & short shape each other,
High & low contrast each other,
Note & noise harmonize each other,
First & last, before & after, back & front –
All follow each other.

Therefore the wise
Perform effortless deeds,
Practice wordless teachings,
Teach without saying anything.
And without grasping and fixation,
As the ten thousand things arise and dissolve,
They hold without owning,
Create without claiming,
Work without taking credit,
Accomplish without attachment.

What arises lasts forever because
Letting it go makes it stay.

Commentary

“Never engage in action for the sake of reward… alike in success and defeat.”

Vyasa व्यास
c. 3000 BCE
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

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“When the words come from within, when you are freeing an idea, then the words are powerful. They give life to the thought. They can ignite a fire in another person’s mind.”

Imhotep
2650 – 2600 BCE
First Western architect, engineer and physician

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“Take everything that happens as it comes, as something to animate, not to appropriate”

Lao Tzu 老子 via Witter Bynner
(Lǎozǐ)
604 BCE -
from Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

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“Because he lays claim to no credit, the credit cannot be taken away from him.”

Lao Tzu 老子 via Lin Yutang
(Lǎozǐ)
604 BCE -

Themes: Fame

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“Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.”

Pythagorus
(of Samos)
570 – 495 BCE
"The most influential philosopher of all time"
from Golden Verses of Pythagoras Χρύσεα

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“Pain is certain, suffering is optional.”

The Buddha गौतम बुद्ध
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
563 – 483 BCE
Awakened Truth

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“At 15, I set my mind and heart on learning. At 30, I stood on my own. At 40 I had no doubts. At 50 I knew heaven’s decree. At 60 my ears were in accord. At 70 I followed the desires of my mind -and-heart.”

Confucius 孔丘
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
551 – 479 BCE
History's most influential "failure"

Themes: Evolution Old Age

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“To act without needing a reason… to ride the current of what is – this is the primal virtue.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 via Stephen Mitchell
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

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“The words of arguments are all relative. To reach the absolute, the truth, we have to harmonize opposites and follow their natural evolution.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 via Lin Yutang, Shan Dao 2.4
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

from Zhuangzi

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“Achievement is the beginning of failure. Fame is the beginning of disgrace.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 via Thomas Merton
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Success Failure Fame

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“To act without needing a reason… to ride the current of what is – this is the primal virtue.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Integrity

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“Balance is the beginning of the Way. Emptiness is the heart of the way.”

Liú Ān 劉安
(Huainanzi)
c. 179–122 BCE

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“Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech.”

Plutarch
(Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)
46 – 120 CE

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“We are not disturbed by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens to us.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος
55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

Themes: Suffering

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“We’re not disturbed by what happens to us – only by our thoughts about what happens to us”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος
55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

Themes: Suffering

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“Whoever sees the nature of one thing sees the nature of everything because the emptiness of one thing is the emptiness of everything.”

Āryadeva འཕགས་པ་ལྷ།
(Kannadeva)
3rd C. CE
from Four Hundred Verses on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas

Themes: Emptiness

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“The words printed here are concepts. You must go through the experiences.”

Augustine ɔːɡəstiːn
(Saint Augustine, Saint Austin, Augustine of Hippo)
354 – 430 CE

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“Freeing oneself from words is liberation.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨
(Daruma)
5th-6th C. CE

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“Ignorance and wisdom are identical, not different.”

Dazu Huike
(Dz Huk)
487 – 593 CE

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“We hate suffering, but love it’s causes.”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།།
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
685 – 763 CE
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

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“Gone and a million things leave no trace.”

Han Shan
(Cold Mountain)
c. 730-850 CE

Themes: No Trace

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“A monk asked Dongshan, "What is Buddha?" Dongshan said, "Three pounds of flax."”

Dongshan Liangjie 洞山良价
(Dòngshān Liángjiè; Tōzan Ryōkai)
807 – 869 CE

Themes: Buddhism

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“When right and wrong, other and self exist in their midst, love and hate will arise and attach each other. When love and hate arise and attack each other, warfare will flourish.”

Wang Zhen via Ralph D. Sawyer
809 – 859 CE
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

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“From the play of pure knowledge and endless space, I weave cloth of perfect insight into emptiness.”

Tantipa ཏནྟི་པ།
("The Senile Weaver")
1st half of 9th century
Mahasiddha #13

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“The foolish reject what they see and not what they think; the wise reject what they think and not what they see.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)
? - 850 CE
from Zen Teachings of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind, John Blofeld translation

Themes: Non-Thought

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“Sages create but do not possess what they create. They succeed but do not claim success. Because they do not lose themselves, they do not lose others.”

Wang Anshi 王安石 via Red Pine
1021 – 1086 CE

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“All depends on time and occasion, nothing is eternal. Therefore sages act without effort, teach without words, 'good and bad' don't enter their minds.”

Lu Huiqing via Red Pine, Shan Dao
1031 – 1111 CE

Themes: Moral Freedom

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“Losing something is the result of possessing something. How can people lose what they don't possess?”

Su Che 呂洞 via Red Pine
1039 – 1112 CE
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Materialism Greed

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“The best signs of success are a decreasing of self-centeredness.”

Gampopa སྒམ་པོ་པ། via Herbert Guenther
(Sönam Rinchen, Dakpo Rinpoche)
1079 – 1153 CE
from Jewel Ornament of Liberation

Themes: Success

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“Lao-tzu's 5000-word text clarifies what is mysterious as well as what is obvious. It can be used to attain the Tao, to order a country, or to cultivate the body.”

Li Xizhai via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
12th century CE
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

Themes: Taoism

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“All existence involves contrasting pairs. When one is present, both are present. When one is absent, both are absent.”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 via Red Pine
1249 – 1333 CE

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“As the Godhead is nameless, and all naming is alien to Him so also the soul is nameless; for it is here the same as God.”

Meister Eckhart
(Eckhart von Hochheim)
1260 – 1328 CE

Themes: God Anonymity

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“There is no air or water, no creation or creator, no earth, air or space, no guru or disciple, no easy or difficult path.”

Kabīr कबीर via Linda Hess and Shukdeo Singh
1399 – 1448 CE
from Bijak of Kabir

Themes: Emptiness

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“Many people are good at talking and bad at understanding,”

Teresa of Avila
1515 – 1582 CE
from Way of Perfection

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“Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.”

William Shakespeare
1564 – 1616 CE
from Othello

Themes: Success

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“When you understand that my poems aren’t really poems, then we can talk poetry together.”

Ryokan 良寛大愚
(Ryōkan Taigu,“The Great Fool”)
1758 – 1758 CE

Themes: Poetry

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“Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge - it is as immortal as the heart of man.”

William Wordsworth
1770 – 1850 CE

Themes: Poetry

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“Don’t trust intellectual teachings, recognize that vast and unborn sameness.”

Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ཞབས་དཀར་ཚོགས་དྲུག་རང་གྲོལ། via Erik Pema Kunsang
1781 – 1851 CE
from Flight of the Garuda

Themes: One Taste

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“The art of not reading… remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.”

Arthur Schopenhauer
1788 – 1860 CE

Themes: Books

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“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”

Henry David Thoreau
1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

Themes: Success

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“what is success without failure? what is a win without a loss? what is health without illness? you have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other. there is always going to be suffering. it’s how you look at your suffering, how you deal with it, that will define you.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

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“According to a notion of the early Christians, the devil would like to ‘play the part of God’. According to Lao-Tzu’s theory, the nature of the devil consists exactly in the attempt of acting the part of God.”

Paul Carus
1852 – 1919 CE
The Teachings of Lao Tzu

Themes: God Christianity

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“The line between failure and success is so fine. . . that we are often on the line and do not know it.”

Elbert Hubbard
1856 – 1915 CE

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“He that is slow to believe anything and everything is of great understanding, for belief in one false principle, is the beginning of all unwisdom.”

Arthur Desmond
1859 – 1929 CE
from Might Is Right

Themes: Belief

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“Success is never so interesting as struggle.”

Willa Cather
1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

Themes: Success

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“opposites always balance on the scales – a sign of high culture. One-sidedness, though it lends momentum, is a mark of barbarism.”

Carl Jung
1875 – 1961 CE

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“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.”

Hermann Hesse
1877 – 1962 CE

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“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘What about lunch?’”

A.A. Milne
(Alan Alexander Milne)
1882 – 1956 CE
from Winnie the Pooh

Themes: Less is More

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“though a day be as dense as a decade, no mouth has the might”

James Joyce
1882 – 1941 CE
from Finnegan's Wake

Themes: Inscrutable

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“Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant
1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

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“Success is relative. It is what we make of the mess we have made of things.”

T.S. Eliot
1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Success

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“For every traveller who has any taste of his own, the only useful guidebook will be the one which he himself has written.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Travel Books

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“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them, finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons.”

Aldous Huxley
1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Karma Belief

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“The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear.”

Krishnamurti
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
1895 – 1986 CE

Themes: Belief

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“The principle of leveling of all opposites, and the theory of cycles and universal reversion to opposites are basic for the understanding of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu philosophy and its practical teachings. All Lao Tzu's paradoxes arise from this point of view.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂
1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

Themes: Paradox

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“By admitting the conception of goodness, you are simultaneously creating a conception of badness.”

Arthur Waley
1899 – 1969 CE
from The Way and its Power

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“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality.”

Eric Fromm
1900 – 1980 CE

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“From emptiness, everything comes out. One whole body of water, or one whole mind, is emptiness. When we reach this understanding we find true meaning to our life.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
1904 – 1971 CE

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“There is no one so great as the one who does not try to accomplish anything.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信
1913 – 2008 CE
from One Straw Revolution

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“Chuang Tzu agrees with the paradox of Lao Tzu, ‘When all the world recognizes good as good, it becomes evil’ because it becomes something that one does not have and which one must constantly be pursuing until, in effect, it becomes unattainable.”

Thomas Merton
1915 – 1968 CE

Themes: Paradox

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“The most powerful, smallest and largest thing in the universe is the mind.”

Karmapa XVI ཀརྨ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད།
(Rangjung Rigpe Dorje)
1924 – 1981 CE
from Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

Themes: Mind

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“Success and failure are greatly overrated. But failure gives you a whole lot more to talk about.

Hildegard Knef
1925 – 2002 CE

Themes: Failure Success

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“The passageway into the world of shamans opens up after the warrior has learned to shut off his internal dialogue.”

Carlos Castaneda
1925 – 1998 CE
from Wheel of Time: The Shamans of Mexico Their Thoughts About Life Death & the Universe

Themes: Non-Thought

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“To believe that our beliefs are permanent truths which encompass reality is a sad arrogance.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

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“Success is like reaching an important birthday and finding you're exactly the same.”

Audrey Hepburn
1929 – 1993 CE

Themes: Success

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“As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion.”

Pema Chödrön
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
1936 CE –
First American Vajrayana nun

Themes: Success

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“Form is empty of our preconceptions, empty of our judgements… Form is empty if we see it in the absence of our own personal interpretations of it.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE

Themes: Emptiness

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“I'm not going to change the way I look or the way I feel to conform to anything. I've always been a freak. So I've been a freak all my life and I have to live with that, you know. I'm one of those people.”

John Lennon
1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Change

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“There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.”

Bob Dylan via Love Minus Zero
1941 CE –
from Bringing it all Back Home

Themes: Success Failure

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“So winners are the real losers because they learn nothing?… If losers can exploit what their adversaries teach them, yes, losers can become winners in the long term.”

David Mitchell
1969 CE –
from The Bone Clocks

Themes: Success

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“The sage […] realizes that things arise of their own accord, and not as the result of her own coercion or anxious striving […] so she does not feel any sense of ownership over the result of her actions.”

Yi-Ping Ong
1978 CE –
from Tao Te Ching - Introduction and Notes

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  1. Shan Dao
    If we think of “teaching” as imparting knowledge, knowledge and skill-sets are necessary but teaching stays on the level of only understanding the words. If by “teaching” we mean transmitting the true sense of the words, words aren’t even necessary. Realized wisdom communicates with every gesture and expression.